Cave on a Cul-de-sac
Mitchell Toews
Hayward Fault Line Winner


Unlike him, she looked good. Her tall figure, a face untraced by time, that remarkable smile. The few grey strands hidden in the blonde. Toned white arms in haute couture.  

If she had an affair, she would kiss her lover with passion. This would be the most hurtful piece and they both knew it, without ever saying. More damning, the kiss, than the flirtation and much more than the guilty acquiescence. More by far than the pinching, panting sex.   

Cigarette breath and yellow stains in the stranger's undershirt, in the back of a minivan. Untrimmed toenails, the insulting silence after the deed—all these she knew awaited her. It kept her true, this foreknowledge. Sin like bile she’d be forced to swallow, inside of her forever.  

But if she did stray, her lips would part and she would press against the new man with unpracticed force. It would be as if that is how she always did it. This act she’d suffer as one might a vengeful rite—done as if he watched, a witness to the execution.  

“Don’t be ridiculous!” she said. No. She would not waver; she’d not release him.  

He almost did her that favour. Him lying red-faced on the porch floor, back arched, one leg mottled—swollen, a grotesque rotted eggplant. Is this it? he wondered. Not afraid, more surprised. Confused by the finality. He took his mind away to dull the pain and hide from the doubt. Far distant he traveled to the cave where that children's soccer team was trapped. Flashlight beams on wet rock walls, water rising.   

He had crawled up the road to the house, kudzu vines reaching out to ensnare. He was too broken to stand after the truck clipped him on his walk down the Buckhead lane. Gravel grapeshot pressed into the heels of his hands, one leg dragging like a bag of wet sand. Now he lay truly alone, even with her nearby. He sent his mind away again because he couldn't bear her silent hoping, prodding at him with hooded eyes. Her desire for him to let her go was like a still and patient brute in the room. Dull and heavy, amorphous and barely upright. Half-hidden, but for age-old eyes that stared unblinking.   

But like the lost boys, he escaped, squinting up into the sunlight. His emergence forced the looming figure away. He recalls the young EMS crew bursting in, like a sudden gale swept across a whitecap bay. Tan forearms and droplets twinkling on a silver wristwatch. Freeing him, making him buoyant again, lifting him out of danger.  

And so her lips will remain unused.  

They will not part.    


First published: February 2019
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